Why Finding our Passion is Overrated. (What to find Instead)

Ever get tired of hearing people say that all you have to do is "find your passion?" 

Are you secretly annoyed by Instagram posts of hopeful sunrises with this mandate in beautiful typography?  

Or maybe you just feel like the only person who hasn't a clue of what your passion is. (And you are pretty sure that no one is going to pay you to read that obscure comic that you love that no one else seems to get. )

The encouragement to "find your passion" is doled out as career advice, in motivational speeches, at counseling sessions and as the title of magazine quizzes. Worse, it is venerated as a golden key that will open the door to the life we want.

What if finding our passion is overrated? What if there are better things to find instead?

The overlooked reason "find your passion" is misleading.

Passion—by definition—is a strong and barely controllable emotion. It's the word we use when we get caught up in romance and can have no other thought but when we will next see the object of our affection.

The challenge is that we have co-opted that word to mean the one thing we are meant to do in life that we truly love. Other words like calling or purpose or dharma lack the same emotional punch. They aren't all-consuming.

(We already have a term for people consumed with their jobs.  It's workaholic.)

The assumption is that if we could just find that one perfect thing that we love the most, that it will become our career, our purpose and our joy of living.

But what if conventional wisdom is all wrong?

What if part of the reason we are frustrated by trying to "find our passion" is that it doesn't exist?

Here are three less elusive pursuits, that are way more effective in creating an engaged life:

Remember when as a kid, everything was interesting? 

Were you startled the first time you saw a frog jump? Did you ever push a button just to see what it would do? We started out life being curious. And it was fun. 

Eat, Pray, Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert shares this perspective. "Passion is rare; passion is a one-night-stand. Passion is hot, it burns. Every day, you can't access that." Gilbert continues, "Follow your curiosity. It might lead you to your passion or it might not. You might get nothing out of it at all except a beautiful, long life where all you did was follow your gorgeous curiosity.

Courtney Carver of Be More with Less also supports abandoning the search for passion to dance with curiosity. "Passions and interests change over time, so instead of trying to fulfill the goal of discovering that one thing you are meant to do, think about what you like to do or what sounds interesting...Give up the passion-seeking and give yourself permission to be curious. Maybe there is something that you’d like to learn more about, but because it doesn’t fit the 'find your passion' model, you passed it by. Chances are you’ve dismissed good ideas and interests because you didn’t think you were passionate enough. Don’t let the way other people define passion and a meaningful life dictate what means most to you."

At the very least, increasing your curiosity might make you more attractive. Curious people are fun to be with. They try things. They wind up places others don’t, simply because they want to see what is down that road. Life interests them. Not only that, but curious people are rarely arrogant, because they don’t pretend to know. They embrace the joy of finding out.

What if awakening our own inner curiosity is a much more accessible goal than finding some strong emotion about what what we want to do in life? Dorothy Parker once wrote, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Write off passion and respond to your point of pain.

We all have points of pain. For many of us, it is physical.  Others emotional. For some, it can be a full-fledged crisis.

People take action around relieving pain. (It's the reason marketers focus on identifying our points of pain and tailor their advertising campaigns to them.) There is motivation to it.

The problem with the quest to 'find our passion' completely ignores the places where we hurt. And yet...

Often, the core purpose of our lives—the thing that connects us with others and winds up producing the most satisfaction—is connected to our point of pain. (tweet this)

What if instead of searching for elusive passion, we identified our biggest point of pain and used it to create forward motion?

Everyone from the person who is anguished over animal abuse and gives their time to a rescue organization, to the neglect survivor who breaks free to inspire others with a vibrant life, to the alcoholic serving as a sponsor in AA, has responded to their point of pain.

Whether we have overcome our pain or are smack in the middle of it, there is power in using it with purpose. Viktor Frankl, famously wrote, "If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering."

Skip the search for passion. Transform pain into purpose. (tweet this)

Have a hint of something you might like to try? Arrange a small experiment. 

In a lab, we can try things. And if they blow up? Oh well, log that as one more thing NOT to do.

And the results of these experiments? They produce innovation. They create breakthroughs.

Every major thing that makes our lives better happened because someone was willing to try something that had never been tried before.

We've been told that we need a well-researched 20-year plan for our lives.  But quite frankly, even the business world is becoming less enamored with long-term strategy documents.  When we are in a static environment, plans can be great. But life continually changes. There are variables we can't see coming which means the plan we make today, might be highly irrelevant two years from now.

Eric Ries, author of the book, The Lean Startup, teaches small experiments as a way of life for entrepreneurs who want to figure out what works in the marketplace.  Too many start-ups have failed because they invest all of their resources in a big idea that no one wants to buy. Ries writes, "This is one of the most important lessons of the scientific method: if you cannot fail, you cannot learn. The Lean Startup methodology re-conceives a startup's efforts as experiments that test its strategy to see which parts are brilliant and which are crazy."

This idea that we can use small experiments to help us shape strategy in real time works not only in business, but also in life.

The best part is that all you need to run a small experiment is a hint of something you might like to do.  And you know what? You don't even have to be passionate about it.

We can freely neglect passion and take small ideas for test drives.

Don't waste time waiting for some emotion that may not come

I don't know about you, but I don't want to waste my time taking quizzes and reading blog posts hoping that somebody else will help me "find my passion."

I would much rather do things that make for a more interesting, more meaningful life—one I can enjoy living. 

So, close this browser window and go awaken your curiosity, get to work on the pain, or start a small experiment.

Your life is waiting! 

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall